The Ikalahan: a forest community fighting climate change

Some 1.6 billion people directly depend on forests for their livelihoods. This month, world leaders at the UN’s Forum on Forests gathered in New York to develop a plan to preserve the world’s vanishing forests – and the people who have been living within them for generations. In order to understand how these new policies are playing out on the ground, I visited the Ikalahans, an indigenous people who live deep in the Philippine mountains.

Forester Nonoy Bugtong, 48, stands at the site where, in the early 1970s, his tribal community defeated a plan by the Marcos Administration to build a 6,300 hectare resort.
Forester Nonoy Bugtong, 48, stands at the site where his tribal community defeated a plan by the Marcos Administration to build a 6,300 hectare resort in the early 1970s.

In 1971, the Ikalahans became the first indigenous community in the country to gain recognition for their stewardship of tribal forest land. Today, the villagers use traditional methods to manage some 57,000 hectares of forests.

After four decades, the Ikalahans are the Philippine’s best chance of entering the global carbon market – and thus receiving much-needed funds in exchange for their sustainable practices.

A footpath spans a river in the village of Imogan, where some 600 Ikalahan people are at the center of an effort to mitigate climate change with traditional forest management.
A footpath spans a river in the village of Imogan, where some 600 Ikalahan people are at the center of an effort to mitigate climate change with traditional forest management.

However, some groups are raising concerns over the carbon trading program, negotiated through the UN’s REDD+ program, a source of controversy in recent climate change talks. Questions persist over ownership of the forests and the carbon within them; who will manage the funds that will be generated; and the effects of indigenous communities entering into global market-based agreements.

The story of the Ikalahan offers a glimpse into the next phase of how climate change negotiations could play out across the world’s threatened forest communities.

Stay tuned: video, audio and a print story are coming soon…

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